On June 7, the ASPCA announced a $5,000 grant awarded to the equine rescue group Speak Up for Horses. The funding was gifted to assist with the care and placement of 48 severely neglected horses seized by local law authorities during a cruelty raid in Breckenridge County, Kentucky.
In April 2009, authorities discovered 11 dead horses and another 48 starving on a Breckenridge County farm. After the conviction of the farm owner, the horses were slated for auction and possible slaughter. Fortunately, with the support of Breckenridge County Executive Judge Ray Powers, Speak Up for Horses was able to acquire the animals and begin the slow process of rehabilitation. Speak Up for Horses supports the rescue of slaughter-bound horses and partners with a variety of equine organizations to rescue at-risk equines.
“Caring for 48 neglected horses is extremely rewarding, but also challenging,” says Shelly Price, Board Secretary of Speak Up for Horses. “It is imperative for us to give these horses humane care and ensure that they live out their lives in peaceful retirement. Without the ASPCA's support, this would not have been possible.”
Of the original 48 rescued, more than 30 have been placed in new homes, where an additional 10 foals have been born. The remaining 16 horses are currently receiving additional training to increase their opportunities for adoption.
“The sad reality is that abandoned and neglected horses often end up at auctions, or even worse, slaughterhouses, where their lives come to a brutal end,” says Jacque Schultz, Senior Director of Community Initiatives for the ASPCA. “Speak Up for Horses has been instrumental in rescuing at-risk horses while increasing awareness about equine welfare."
In the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill, the ASPCA has donated $15,000 to the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation (TVMF) in Austin, TX, to develop a detailed curriculum and training program for emergency animal responders in the Texas Gulf region. Established in 1978, TVMF is dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of animals through owner education programs, veterinary student scholarships and emergency funds, and continuing education programs.
“The ASPCA recognizes the importance of disaster preparedness and assembling the resources to assist animal victims of both natural and man-made disasters,” says Allison Cardona, Director of Operations for the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team. “We’re pleased to support the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation’s efforts to create specially trained teams.”
TVMF will recruit a number of professionals in veterinary medicine, law enforcement, and the animal sheltering field who will receive training in disaster zone assessment, animal care and handling methods, and disaster response procedures.
“As we've seen with the Gulf Coast oil spill and Hurricane Ike, disasters will always happen,” says Kay Mayfield, Executive Director of Texas State Animal Resource Team (TxSART), the companion animal emergency management branch of the TVMF. “Through TxSART, we now have a united front to manage emergencies, and the creation of specialized and skilled response teams will improve our effectiveness.”
Last year, the City of New York gave Shamrock Stables—the West 45th Street home to more than two dozen Central Park carriage horses—until June of this year to move out of its current, City-owned facilities. The City has kept its deadline and plans to demolish the current stables to build an affordable housing development that will include a new school, stores and open spaces.
Shamrock Stables has been leasing its lot from the City for below market value for many years, and Midtown's other horse stables are already packed to capacity. With a scarcity of properties that are close to Central Park, appropriately priced and zoned, the future of these carriage horses is up in the air.
The ASPCA, in collaboration with NY-CLASS (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets), has made an offer to Shamrock Stables and the City to find homes for the horses and relocate them to safer, more humane environments. This option would put the welfare of the horses first, and prevent them from being auctioned off to work farms, the slaughterhouse or other venues where the possibility for exploitation and inhumane treatment is high.
“At this time, we have made a clear offer to Shamrock Stables,” says Michelle Villagomez, ASPCA Senior Manager of Advocacy. “We stand ready to assist in any way we can to help improve conditions for these horses.”
"Even though we have opposing views on the proper treatment of horses, we believe that in this case, we can all work together on their behalf," says ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres. "We stand ready to cooperate with Shamrock Stables and the City on this important issue."
On May 28, the ASPCA confirmed through the Marshall County Prosecutor's Office that 96 charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty were filed against the owners of a Holly Springs, Mississippi puppy mill where the ASPCA managed the investigation and seizure of more than 100 animals. The dogs, including small breeds such as Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, Corgis and Chihuahuas, were found housed in feces-encrusted pens and suffering from severe neglect—skin disease, rotted teeth, malnutrition and various other infections were rampant. Several dead adult dogs and puppies were also discovered on the property.
"We appreciate the diligence of the Marshall County Prosecutor's Office in pursuing this case and bringing appropriate charges against these puppy mill operators," says Tim Rickey, the ASPCA Senior Director of Field Investigations and Response. "It's a crucial step in our ongoing fight against animal cruelty."
Our team of investigators worked closely with local authorities to collect evidence for the prosecution of the criminal case and provide for the animals' immediate needs. Also on scene were the American Humane Association, Marshall County Humane Society, Mississippi State University and Collierville (TN) Humane Society, who assisted in transporting the animals to a nearby emergency shelter. The animals were triaged by a team of veterinarians including Dr. Rebecca Coleman, Dr. Phil Bushby, a faculty member at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Kimberly Woodruff, also with Mississippi State.
"The officials and citizens of Marshall County appreciate the expertise and work of the ASPCA, as well as the other agencies, veterinarians and volunteers that helped save the animals from this deplorable puppy mill," says Shirley Byers, Marshall County Prosecuting Attorney. "Without their expertise and resources we would not have been able to handle the recovery, treatment and placement of so many animals."
The animals have since been transported to various animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA Adoption Center, where a lucky 34 were ultimately made available for adoption.
Earlier this week, the Office of the Inspector General released a report detailing the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) lax and ineffective enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) against licensed large-scale dog breeders and brokers known as puppy mills. As part of the investigation, auditors visited 81 facilities and reviewed records documenting 28,443 violations over a two-year period.
The report concludes that despite regular inspections, breeders were allowed to continue operating facilities where dogs lived in inhumane conditions—cages overflowing with pools of urine and feces, food laden with dead cockroaches, and dogs infested with ticks and unattended injuries including a mutilated leg and other atrocities—all without penalty. Furthermore, in cases of severe neglect and abuse, inspectors failed to confiscate the animals. At one Oklahoma mill, despite discovering five dead dogs and others who had resorted to cannibalism due to starvation, investigators took no action. This resulted in the deaths of 22 more dogs. The ASPCA is saddened by the findings, but we are not surprised.
The ASPCA has been painfully aware of the cruel conditions to which dogs are regularly subjected at the hands of puppy mill operators who put profit above providing the most basic standards of care. "Puppy mills are a primary focus of the ASPCA's anti-cruelty initiatives," says Cori Menkin, ASPCA Senior Director of Legislative Initiatives. "The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team has rescued countless dogs from puppy mills and aided in the prosecution of their owners." This past February, the ASPCA rescued more than 95 severely underweight dogs from a puppy mill in Holly Springs, MS—the animals were being housed in feces-encrusted pens and suffering from severe neglect.
In addition to our nationwide investigations, the ASPCA supports landmark legislation, including the Missouri Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act. "This is a groundbreaking citizens' initiative aimed at drastically improving the lives of dogs in Missouri kennels," explains Menkin. With an estimated 3,000 puppy mills in the state, Missouri has rightly come to be known as the Puppy Mill Capital of America.
"While the ASPCA commends the Office of the Inspector General for its detailed audit, we hope the findings will lead to stronger, more consistent enforcement by the USDA, more federal funding to increase the number of inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, and ultimately, more humane conditions for the dogs," says Menkin.